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GP Week : Issue 200
F1 >>> FEATUrE Roland Ratzenberger was a late-comer to Formula 1, debuting along with the new, low-budget simtek team at the start of 1994. Having won the 1986 Formula Ford destival, Ratzenberger had the base credentials, but it took him eight years to get to where he wanted to be. From Formula Ford, he contested two years of Formula 3, with modest results, then via British F3000, and British and World Touring Car Championships, along with several years of sports car racing, both in Europe and Japan, he ended up contesting the Japanese Formula Nippon open-wheeler series in 1992 and 1993. By working hard on his PR and keeping people in Europe informed of his progress, Ratzenberger managed to convince Simtek to offer him a five- race deal to start the 1994 World F1 Championship. The Simtek, which had to be redesigned late following the ban, at the end of 1993, of active suspension (pioneered by Williams), wasn’t a particularly good car, but it was an entry into F1. Failing to qualify at his opening GP, Brazil, Ratzenberger ’s fortunes rose when the circus moved to Aida, a circuit he knew well from his Japanese career. He finished 11th, albeit a number of laps down on the winner. Then came Imola ... The nose of Roland’s Simtek broke (possibly after kerb contact) in Staurday qualifying and folded under the car as it approached the high-speed Tosa curve, and it went straight on into the concrete. Ratzeberger was killed instantly. It was said that Ayrton Senna, who was deeply moved by Ratzenberger’s crash, had a rolled-up Austrian flag inside the cockpit of his Williams the following day, which he planned to wave at the end of the race. GPWeeK director Keith sutton had also struck up a close friendship with the young Austrian: “I had just moved with my company to Towcester and Roland happened to be living nearby. One day he called me because he needed some promotional photographs taken to try to secure some new sponsorship. We arranged to do a shoot at the local playing fields. “What was immediately apparent was his zest for life. He had a wonderful sense of humour and was a joy to be with. Roland was someone you couldn’t help but be friends with and, at that point, I had made a friend for life. “I remember well how we shared a passion for fast cars and would often compare those we owned at the time – his dream machines would blow my hot hatchbacks away! The number plates my cars carry now bear an ‘R’ for Roland. Like so many others who knew him, I found that his friendship has left an indelible impression that I cherish immensely. “When the Simtek team was launched in 1993 we were the team’s official photographers, ensuring that we had unrivalled access. So we have a unique collection of images from the months when Roland was with the team up to the tragedy at Imola, and beyond that weekend, when we discovered how bravely the team was dealing with the crushing loss. “20 years on, the pictures of Roland and the Simtek team at Imola hold a powerful poignancy. The enthusiasm shown by Roland, and by the sadly ill-fated team through the severest adversity, should be an inspiration to us all.” Roland Ratzenberger: One of F1's nice guys 27 GPWEEK.com // 27 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: